Restaurant Websites Are Full of Bells and Whistles—but Not This One

For Le Bernardin, a site as minimalist as its brand

Creating a sophisticated digital presence for an old-guard brand is never an easy thing. But when that brand happens to be Le Bernardin, chef Eric Ripert's legendary New York restaurant, the undertaking is about as challenging as it gets.

When Jay Schwartz received the commission to revamp the venerable eatery's homepage last month, he took an approach seldom seen in an era of dazzling digital pyrotechnics. Schwartz considered every online feature that a restaurant homepage can have and simply didn't do them.

"It was a unique position to be in," said Schwartz, chief creative officer of IdeaWork Studios. "It allowed a little more freedom to be minimal, to strip things down."

Way down, it turns out. Schwartz's firm is already known for its high-end hospitality clients (including Jean-Georges Restaurants, Morgans and the Charlie Palmer Group). And he's also the rare Web designer who takes the minimalist route at a time when restaurant websites, almost by definition, are a messy clutter of flashy features and cheesy background music.

Chef Eric Ripert is famed for his fish dishes, "fresh, simple and prepared with respect."

Indeed, Schwartz can rattle off a list of the online features he deliberately left off the site for Le Bernardin: "No drop-down advisories, no music, no animation, no specials, no happy hour, no ladies' night, no bands and no event calendar." Even the reservations feature—frequently the raison d'etre of every white-tablecloth establishment—is a tiny click feature stashed away in a corner. Ditto for the Facebook and Twitter icons.

Why? As Zagat's No. 1 restaurant in New York for 2015 and the only restaurant to keep all four of its New York Times stars for 29 years, Le Bernardin doesn't need to look for reservations. (Many of its old-guard clients still just pick up the phone and call, anyway.) Nor does the restaurant need to do much in the way of socializing, promoting or explaining itself. "Customers aren't making a choice between Le Bernardin and Bubba Gump," Schwartz said. "It's a destination."

This built-in renown allowed Le Bernardin's new site to emulate Le Bernardin itself—a restaurant known for its understated dining room and Ripert's simple menu of fresh fish. The result might well be the restaurant segment's most minimal website: a carousel of seven slides, five of which show menu courses and only one of which pictures the actual dining room. The name's at the top of the page, the address and phone are down below, and that's about it.

"We don't believe in overcomplicating the dish, and we took that same approach when considering our website redesign," Ripert said. "We wanted to showcase the essence of Le Bernardin and what we do, but in the most simple and pure way without overwhelming visitors to the site with too many elements."

Another way of putting it: Less is more.

Le Bernardin's Caviar-Wagyu, one of seven slides on the homepage